It’s been a while since my last column. I don’t like to go so long between columns, but with the Elite Series season and a lot of new demands on my time since the GEICO Bassmaster Classic, I’ve been busier than ever before in my angling career. It’s one of those “good” problems, I suppose.
Maybe I should start by saying that winning the Classic has been everything it’s cracked up to be. I’ve really enjoyed my time as champion and look forward to every chance I have to get out on the road, meet fishing fans and support my sponsors. I realize that all the extra attention isn’t for everyone, and the additional demands can be overwhelming at times, but winning was a big goal for me professionally, and I’m looking forward to being the best champion I can be.
I suppose the biggest difference between my life and career before the 2016 Classic and since that time is that more people recognize me than ever before. The Classic offers such a giant stage and intense spotlight that a lot of very casual fans take notice. Even at church, people who probably never knew I was a professional angler are coming up to congratulate me and talk fishing. On the road, I’m getting stopped at gas stations and boat ramps more than ever before.
I’ve always enjoyed meeting other anglers, and winning the Classic has put me in a position to meet more fellow fishermen than ever before. I really love that about it.
The Classic has also meant that I have a lot more requests for appearances and chances to speak to groups. I’ve been able to accept a lot of those opportunities — as many as my travel and tournament schedule permits — and they’ve been fun. I think I appreciate the attention more because I spent a lot of years on the trail before it came my way. It’s nice to be wanted and in demand.
If there’s a down-side to being the Classic champion, it’s that I also have to say “no” more often than ever before. There are just so many hours in the day, so many days in the year, and the life of a touring bass pro is already pretty hectic. When a lot of new requests are added to the schedule, I’ve had to accept the fact that I can’t always say “yes.” I don’t like it, but it’s reality. And I want everyone to know that I say “yes” every time I possibly can. I take my situation and responsibilities very seriously. As I mentioned, I want to be the best Classic champion I can possibly be. I understand that not every fishing fan was rooting for me to win, but I want to do a good job for them too and to give something back to the sport that has given me and my family so much.
One thing I’m really excited about this year is my "Healing Heroes in Action Tour." I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now, and it’s back for 2016 with a lot of support from my sponsors. I look at it as a small token of appreciation for the military veterans who risk their lives to keep the rest of us safe.
Four times this year, we’re going to have special events following Elite tournaments. With the help of the Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation, we're selecting veterans who suffered injuries during their tour of duty, and we're taking them fishing.
At each event, there will be three boats — myself and two other Elite pros. We’ll each be paired with a veteran, and we’ll fish as teams. My sponsors have provided some amazing support and prizes that I’ll tell you about later. A fourth spot in the tournament — for another boat with two anglers — will be auctioned off online. Having done a few of these, I can tell you that they’re a lot of fun and very rewarding. I hope you’ll consider bidding and supporting a great cause. All proceeds go to the Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation, and you can get more information soon on my Facebook page.